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PepsiCo’s new category-blurring energy drink

PepsiCo’s getting very energised over energy drinks, with news of Rockstar Unplugged’s debut, ‘a new kind of energy drink which focuses less on providing a big hit of energy and more focus on enhancing good vibes’.

The drink is made with ingredients such as hemp seed oil, B vitamins, spearmint and lemon balm with 80mg of caffeine per can: much less than other Rockstar Energy drinks which range from 160mg-240mg in a serving.

Rockstar Unplugged’s 80mg is comparable to the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee; or slightly more than a caffeinated soda.

The trendy ingredient list has been shaped to appeal to women and younger consumers, who are typically outside the core energy drink consumer base.

“These elements combined with a fruit-forward energy boost help maintain an easy-going, free-flowing and soul-fueling attitude for any mood or occasion,”​ says PepsiCo.

Rockstar Unplugged comes in three sugar-free flavours: blueberry, passionfruit and raspberry cucumber.

First move into hemp

The launch marks PepsiCo’s first US foray into the hemp category after years of speculation that it and fellow giant Coca-Cola could start to dabble in the cannabis beverage categories, which they haven’t attempted given the variation of rules between states.

Hemp, however, comes from the cannabis family but does not contain THC.

PepsiCo has been trialing the idea of a hemp beverage in Germany, with the launch of Rockstar Energy + Hemp​ last year. The US hemp energy drink, however, is a different product: instead offering sugar-free version with herbal ingredients over the German version which is based on ginseng, guarana, sugar and taurine.

Fabiola Torres, SVP, GM and GMO of PepsiCo’s Energy Portfolio, said the US version has been created by drawing on learnings from the German version and consumer research in the US.

“Germany and Europe have led the way with a sophisticated market place for new ingredients, so there’s a lot of great learnings. But ours is a little bit different than the German version – for example, it’s zero sugar, while the proposition in Germany is full sugar.

“We spent a lot of time with our North American consumers about mood management and energy management throughout the day.”

As well as designing the launch around North American consumers, the drink has also been shaped with the pandemic in mind: a time where people are staying at home more but working longer hours, and finding themselves not physically tired but mentally tired.

Hemp ready for a Big Drinks launch

Torres adds that hemp has now gained the necessary status and recognition among consumers needed for a big-company, high-powered national launch, although some element of consumer education has still been needed.

PepsiCo acquired Rockstar for $3.8bn in 2020, calling it a ‘highly strategic’ acquisition as it strengthened its hold in the energy space.

Since then, it has championed a multi-year effort to strengthen the brand and carve out a complementary energy drink to its Mtn Dew and Bang propositions – and a differentiated product from Red Bull and Monster.

Last year it overhauled the brand: repositioning and reformulating the product with an international launch and relaunch in the US.

This debut comes simultaneously with PepsiCo and Starbucks announcing a joint venture for Baya Energy, premised as a ‘good for you’ energy beverage.

Source: PepsiCo,

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